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Eat, Drink and Be Healthy

Eighteen months after the British Medical Journal launched the Polypill debate, epidemiologist Oscar Franco proposed a “Polymeal.”

By Rachael Moeller Gorman // Winter 2007
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The Christmas issue of the British Medical Journal is known for its tongue-in-cheek articles, and in December 2004, 18 months after the journal launched the Polypill debate, epidemiologist Oscar Franco proposed a “Polymeal.” It replaces the five drugs of the Polypill with foods believed to have much the same impact on cardiovascular health.

Basing his choices on the medical literature, Franco nominated wine, fish, dark chocolate, fruits, vegetables, garlic and almonds, and suggested that eating them in sufficient quantities would reduce the risk of cardiovascular disease by 76%. For men, the diet increased life expectancy by 6.6 years, and for women, 4.8 years. “This is a theoretical model, just as the Polypill paper was, and you can say it was written with irony,” says Franco. “But it’s completely plausible. I think humankind should be given a choice.”

To Franco and other scientists, eating right and exercising regularly seems like a better idea than taking powerful drugs every day. “With or without the Polypill, people must improve their lifestyle,” says Robert Bonow, past president of the American Heart Association and current chief of cardiology at the Feinberg School of Medicine at Northwestern University. And the DASH (Dietary Approaches to Stop Hypertension) study has found that people who eat a diet full of fruits and vegetables and low in salt and saturated fat reduce their systolic and diastolic blood pressure by as much as if they had been taking blood pressure drugs.

Still, many researchers think preventing cardiovascular disease involves more than just skipping the cookies and going for a jog. It’s hard to make healthy lifestyle choices in today’s world, they argue, and often it’s only a privileged few who have the time and money to stay on the right path. “To greatly reduce the risk of cardiovascular disease, there need to be political, fiscal, environmental and structural changes at a societal level,” says Anushka Patel, one of the cardiologists conducting a Polypill trial in Australia. “Those aren’t things a doctor can directly address with a patient.”

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The Polypill

A third of the population may benefit from this all-in-one medication. Should everyone else take it too?

The Parts of its Sum

What goes into a Polypill?

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